Singers widely recognize the immediate benefits of making music together: improved mood, physical energy, social bonding. Science backs this anecdotal experience in myriad ways... including some potential long-term protective benefits, according to researcher Aniruddh D. Patelvia.
The research about the effects of song on people with brain conditions raises hope for more far-reaching impact. “If this works for patients, could it work for ordinary people to help with their brain health?” Patel asks. To address that question, Schlaug and his team have done MRIs of older healthy adults, dividing them into a group of singers and a group of non-singers.
The group of singers showed greater connections between areas of the brain than the non-musician group, with the strongest difference on the left side. “Song combines music and words, and word production is a left hemisphere-biased activity,” says Patel. “Perhaps doing lots of singing strengthens the brain networks involved in word production and articulation, in addition to the right hemisphere circuits involved in fine control of pitch and melody.”
These findings suggest new research possibilities, Patel says. “Could singing be neuroprotective?” he asks. “If you’re a singer and have a stroke, would you recover faster? Could regular singing have a lasting impact on brain function? It’s an idea that should be studied more.”